How to build a fire

Hi all

I have the luxury of experience with lighting stoves since a young age; I grew up in an old cottage that had 3 multi-fuel stoves which we used as a major source of warmth. This being the case when I was old enough to do so I got plenty of practice in lighting fires and keeping them running. From what I can see more and more households are using stoves for heating, which is good to see. This being the case I thought I’d share some of my experience here.

A very comforting sight

To begin with I’d suggest getting yourself a couple of things to make things easier. The first is a pair of fireproof gloves like these ones below. I use mine when doing anything at all to the fire when it’s going. They protect my hands from the hot stove handle, and allow me to position logs on the fire exactly where I want them.

The second thing that I would strongly recommend is one of these magnetic flew thermometers. We were recommended these by a chimney sweep where I grew up and it was one of our early purchases when we moved into our current place. As you can see it measures the temperature of the gasses going up your chimney and tells you the ideal temperature range. Too cold and the wood is not burning completely and is producing a tar-like substance called creosote which will stick to the inside of your chimney. Too hot and the heat could also cause damage to the chimney. I got ours for a few pounds online; they really are quite cheap and very well worth the investment.

It’s good to keep the ash cleaned out. I generally empty the majority of the ash when I go to light a fire. As it’s usually been a good few hours since the fire was lit everything has cooled down, so I just wear an old pair of work gloves to keep my hands relatively clean. Once a month or so over the winter I take a little longer over cleaning the fire, taking the fire blocks etc out and really cleaning all of the ash out. We always burn wood, so the ash produced is suitable for the compost heap. However if we were to burn coal or coke then the ash is not suitable for composting so that would regrettably be put in the bin.

As with most things preparation makes life so easy here; I like to make sure I have a good stock of kindling so that I can just grab some out of our kindling basket in the middle of our fire area. Logs are stored in the basket on the right and all of our matches, firelighters, newspapers and tools are stored in the coal scoop on the left.

Cleaned out stove with everything organised and to hand

Before I light the fire I check the air vents. Like most multi-fuel burner ours has two vents; one at the bottom and another one at the top. Wood fires take air from above, so the bottom generally needs to be closed and airflow needs to be controlled with the top vent. Very occasionally I use the bottom vent to give the fire a bit of a boost, but its not often needed for our fire. Where I grew up on the other hand, our fires needed the bottom vent open for a while whilst being lit then closed when the fire had established. Its a case of trial and error here; you’ll soon figure out what works for your stove.

Coal fires need air to come from under the fire, so the top vent needs to be closed and the bottom vent is used to control the airflow into the fire. Its typically a good idea to use a few logs to get some decent embers before you start using the coal or coke, so use the top vent until you put the coal on, at which point you’d close the top vent and use the bottom vent.

Top vent used for burning wood
The circle in the middle is the bottom vent, used for coal/coke and to give a burst

I’ve used a variety of materials and styles of starting a fire. Generally we use either a piece of shop bought firelighter or some folded up newspapers which would otherwise be thrown out by my granddad. Whichever we go for it goes on the base of the firebox. Once I’ve put a match to this I criss-cross some kindling wood over this. In the picture below I’m using some logs that I’ve cut into small slivers with a hand axe. Other materials I tend to use are dried, peeled bark or old twigs that have fallen from the trees. Any of the above work well to provide that next level of heat in the fire.

Very recently lit fire, with the kindling wood criss-crossed and a small long on top

Once the pile of kindling has caught I put a smaller log on the top so it can start to catch. I then close the door and leave it for 5 minutes or so, keeping an eye on the fire and the temperature. Once it begins to burn down to embers it’s time for another small log or two. Once these have burnt down a little larger logs can be added which will burn for longer (or as I said earlier if you’re using coal you can start putting this in now.) Now the fire should be up and running and can be checked less frequently, using the thermometer as a guide for how far open the airvents need to be.

If the thermometer is showing too hot then you close whichever vent you are using, so less heat is going up the chimney. You’ll typically feel an increase in heat radiating out from the stove. If the temperature starts getting too low you need to open it a little. All manner of aspects affect how open the vents need to be from the type of wood, to the style of fire, to the height of your chimney – even your surrounding geography. The more fires you have the more you’ll get used to the settings.

Well guys theres the basics, hope this has been useful.


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